Friday, February 10, 2012

Excerpt from The Arimathean.

Gregory raced, carrying the lance, through the alleys and streets of Jerusalem. His path took him in the direction of the Roman barracks and the various taverns surrounding them.

After recovering the lance he had made his way to the agreed upon meeting place a short distance from his ambush. There he met a messenger from his master who relayed the location of the other item he intended to recover.

He slowed as he neared his destination. This area was full of taverns and shops selling all manner of food and drink. It was popular with the Romans as it was close to their barracks. After a heavy bout of drinking they could stumble home without too much effort.

Arriving at a small mud-walled building, he examined the roofline looking for a point of entry. Still holding the lance he climbed upon a large earthen jug leaning against the wall and wormed his way into the eaves of the ramshackle building. Slowly he crawled along the rafters until he could look down on an open-air courtyard, through a narrow opening in the roof.

An assortment of tables, chairs and benches were arranged around a small fire. The tavern was empty of customers except for two roman soldiers sitting at a table before the fire. They drank from mugs brought to them by a young Jewish girl. Both men were rather drunk and eyed the server with obvious lust when she brought them a new drink.

The object he had come for lay on the table between them; the robe. Gregory recognized both of the Romans from the place of the skull. They had been gambling over the purple garment and one of these soldiers had been the winner.

“Another round!” the larger of the two yelled. He was an older soldier, the arm band on his left arm signifying that he was a decanus, and from the scars and welts running along his bare arms Gregory could tell he had seen more than his share of action. The other soldier was much younger, fresh faced and clearly a recent arrival in Jerusalem.

The girl, perhaps no more than fourteen, hurried through a doorway carrying two large mugs and placed them on the table. As she moved away the soldier’s meaty hand closed on her upper arm. Before she had time to react she found herself on the man’s lap struggling in futile resistance. She was no match for the heavily muscled brute.

“You’re quite the beauty. I’ve not been here before. If I had known about you I’d have been here long ago. Apparently today is my lucky day. I have a treat for you.”
The soldier reached for the robe and with a flourish he draped it over the girl’s shoulders.

“The robe of royalty. Now you’re my own little Jewish Princess.”

An older man rushed through the doorway into the courtyard, “Gentleman, please. We are so glad you are with us tonight, but please leave the girl alone.”

Ignoring the old man the soldier leered at the girl and then began nuzzling her neck. Gregory could see the fear in her eyes.

“You have no idea what a treat these little Jewesses are, Ruston, such lovely little temptresses. Have you had one yet?” The big man asked his compatriot.

The young soldier shook his head and Gregory sensed he was unsure of his friend’s actions as he looked from the old man, to the girl, and back to her captor.

“No? Well maybe this is the one for you then...right after I’m done with her.”

With that he stood and threw the young girl face down across the table. With one hand pressing down on her back he moved his other hand under her dress. The girl began screaming. The girl’s father rushed at the big soldier and grabbed ahold of his upper arm.

“No! You can’t do this! I beg you, release my daughter!”

The back of the soldier’s hand lashed out catching the man across the face. He collapsed in a heap beside the table.

“Make yourself useful and make sure the old Jew doesn’t bother me again,” the big man said before turning his attention back to the girl still pinned on the table.

The young soldier stood and hovered over the old man. He kept one eye on the crumpled form, but most of his attention was on the scene playing out on the table.

Slowly Gregory placed the lance across the rafters next to him. He lowered himself to the ground, into a dark storage room with a doorway leading into the courtyard.
Once on the ground he drew his sword and crept to the doorway. He opened it a crack and surveyed the courtyard. The young soldier was still rooted to the ground, his back toward Gregory. The would-be rapist was struggling with his scabbard belt, trying to free himself. He was turned in Gregory’s direction but engrossed in his belt buckle. The girl was struggling but she was facing Gregory, and she had seen him crack open the door, and now was looking directly into his eyes. He saw her pleading look and slowly he raised his finger to his lips. She acknowledged his gesture with a gentle nod. She surreptitiously reached out with one hand and grabbed hold of one of the mugs.

Gregory threw open the door and moving fast covered the distance across the courtyard to where the young soldier stood guard over the still unmoving form of the girl’s father.
The young man sensed the movement, but before he could turn Gregory slammed the hilt of his sword against the base of his skull. The young soldier crumpled in a heap.

When Gregory made his move the girl flung the mug and its contents into the face of the legionnaire. The man was a veteran, of that there was no doubt, because he moved with a speed Gregory grudgingly acknowledged, the girl’s attempt at distraction not slowing him in the least. He whipped his sword out and assumed a fighting stance before Gregory could strike. He moved away from the girl and into the open space. A smile crossed the warrior’s face.

“Well, what do we have here? Looking for a taste of the girl, little man? I’m not sharing.”

Gregory didn’t respond, he moved away from the unconscious forms at his feet into the clear across from the soldier.

“For such a small man you carry a big sword. Do you know how to use it?”

Gregory remained silent, waiting, balanced perfectly, his mind clear of everything but the eyes and the hands of the big man.

Perhaps his instincts were not as dulled from drink as it had appeared, because the leering smile slowly faded from the soldier’s face and his eyes grew deadly serious. As if he sensed something in the man before him, he went silent.

And then Gregory spoke, “When I’m done with you they will call you the eunuch.”

The soldier lunged, stabbing out with a brutal thrust Gregory easily parried. The big man then spun in a ferocious circle the blade spinning, searching out Gregory’s head. When the blade missed its target he seemed surprised, bewildered that no one was before him. It was a moment before he realized blood was flowing freely from a wound low in his abdomen. He placed a hand to the wound and lifted it inspecting the dark red stain.
Turning he found Gregory behind him. To his credit he never gave up before he died.

“You’re fast, little man.”

He stumbled slightly before gathering himself and with a roar he lurched forward at Gregory. This time the soldier’s sword was flicked away easily by Gregory’s blade and then followed by a brutal slashing blow that started at the man’s left shoulder and continued downward toward his guts.

Slowly Gregory walked in a circle around the old warrior, who stood in place his sword hanging limply at his side. Once more facing him he looked into the soldier’s eyes.

“Why? What did I do to you?” the soldier gasped in a tortured whisper.

“You gambled and won the robe, nothing more,” Gregory replied.

A confused, disbelieving looked crossed his face for a moment right before he fell to the ground, already dead, at Gregory’s feet.

He turned to find the young girl clutching the robe and staring at him. He moved toward the young soldier on the ground. Hefting the sword in his hand, he contemplated him for a moment. There had been more than enough death today.

He moved toward the girl and stopped before her. She looked down at the robe and back to Gregory. With trembling hands she held it out to him.

He took it and turned to leave.

“Whose robe was it?” the girl asked quietly.

He stood still for a moment before he answered.

“A king’s.”